Book Review: Play Winning Chess

Play Winning Chess, by Yasser Seirawan with Jeremy Silman

This is the second book by the authors that I have written, and it suffers from a bit of a Goldilocks problem.  If the first book I read by the author was a bit too ambitious and difficult for someone whose chess ambitions are as modest as mine are at present, this book suffers from being a bit too basic.  Admittedly, I read a fair amount of books about chess [1], but this one was far easier than expected.  Admittedly, about thirty years ago this book would have been very useful, as I was at that time a total beginner when it came to chess and about to embark on the longest sustained chess playing period of my life, between the third and fifth grades, culminating in my third-place finish in my elementary school’s annual chess tournament.  At any stage later than that, though, this book is far too basic and far too fundamental for my own understanding of the game, and as such this is a book I can only recommend to those who need assistance about the very basics of chess and not the tactical problems or strategic and positional elements of chess that I am more interested in myself.

In terms of its contents, this book is a bit more than 200 pages long and seven chapters and consists of very straightforward material.  After some acknowledgements and a brief introduction, the author talks about the evolution of chess over its history from a game played mainly by rulers and military leaders to a game that has a wide degree of popularity (although still mostly dominated by men) throughout the world (1).  After that, the author talks about four basic principles of chess that must be mastered if one is to become a more successful player:  force (2)–namely the amount of material that is devoted to victory, time (3)–one’s tempo and initiative, space (4)–the amount of the board one’s pieces cover, and pawn structure (5)–which determines whether one is dealing with an open or closed position.  After that, the author gives some very lively comments on some annotated games (6), discusses what the four principles and their mastery mean for the intended reader (7), and various supplemental material like a photo album, glossary, answers to the quizzes and tests throughout the book, and an index.  With this book the author meets a worthwhile project in writing a basic book for very early chess players, seeking to give them encouragement on how to better their game and devote themselves to mastery of it.

Even so, apart from the basic nature of the book, there were other elements of the book that I found somewhat bothersome.  In particular, I was irritated by the author’s moving into social matters through his expression of irritation that chess at the highest levels was dominated by men.  I don’t find any area of domination by men in this particular day and age to be something to regret, but instead something to celebrate and rejoice in, and the author’s movement in gender politics was unwelcome for this reader.  While I was certainly willing to cut the author a great deal of slack when it came to his oversimplification of various matters of chess history and strategy because of the audience this book was aimed at, the book’s political angle proved to be at least one issue too many for me to overlook charitably.  Given that the author is a very successful man himself at chess–and at one time (if not at present) one of the top ranking chess players in the world, the author’s attempt to appeal to women and to contemporary gender politics comes off as unwelcome and unnecessary pandering, as empty and hollow as the FIDE titles for women that pander to their lower achievement rather than giving out rankings that reflect the massive contemporary disparity in chess achievement between men and women.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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